Cover Reveal: COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Hi there, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE and reveal the book’s cover. This is the third book in the Edgar Award and Agatha Award-nominated Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series! What’s in store for Myrtle this time?

I am delighted to be back! Thank you for continuing the tradition for Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries cover reveals.

In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, our Investigator encounters her first cold case. Years ago, a student at the local college vanished under Mysterious Circumstances and no trace of her was every found. A murder in the opening pages of Cold-Blooded Myrtle recalls this old mystery; and Myrtle, Miss Judson, and Peony set out to unravel a twisted tale of secret societies, cryptic messages, long-buried secrets, and a killer bent on revenge.

This installment takes place during the holiday season. Tell us what inspired this festive setting! 

A holiday mystery is a crime fiction tradition, and many of our modern holiday customs have their origins in the Victorian era, so I knew from the start one of the books would have to take place during an Exceptionally Victorian Christmas. The Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries also tend to be inspired by real-life happenings, and Cold-Blooded Myrtle is no different. This time, it was an incident with some family friends’ Dickens village display. Somehow, a harrowing tragedy befell the miniature townsfolk (my chief suspect is a cat): figures knocked over, overturned vehicles, objects scattered through the snowy streets, absolute carnage. Their daughter—a young woman after my own heart!—was visiting at the time, and instead of setting everything back to rights, she turned it into a crime scene, with blood trails, footprints, and crime scene tape! Instantly I realized I had the perfect setup for a Myrtle story.

In what ways has Myrtle grown and changed since Book 1?  

Well, she hasn’t changed too much, thank goodness! She’s still as impulsive, determined, and Irrepressible as ever. But having encountered several murders now, her perspective on human nature is definitely growing. In some ways, I think she’s more understanding, but at other times, she’s become even more suspicious of everyone! Anyone she encounters, it seems, might have murderous intentions. In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, the story draws Myrtle into her most personal case yet—one involving her late mother. Myrtle is at an age where she’s starting to see her parents as people, with pasts and secrets and perhaps less-admirable qualities. She’ll get to know her mum from another perspective.

What do you hope your readers–especially the young ones–take away from this book?

In addition to introducing young readers to the fun of classic detective stories, the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries share my love of research and historical curiosities—this time, readers will enjoy a journey into the strange origins of our holiday traditions. This book is also chock full of some of my favorite subjects, plus new characters, new looks at familiar members of the cast, and more fabulous 19th century settings!

And as always, I hope that young readers see Myrtle’s determination and curiosity as an invitation to be bold and curious in their own lives. Myrtle is a heroine who doggedly pursues her own path, despite outside pressures trying to define her.  I want kids to see that it’s ok to embrace their own passions and interests too, whatever they might be.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE to their classroom libraries?

I am so excited to share the news that the classroom guides (yes, guides!) are now available. They have been months in development, but they’re finally here! Teachers interested can sign up for a special mailing at this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd2yGwahFDVdWpmP8QBSDhzYj30gNKYRUJZFEMIjaJx1s9FYw/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1&flr=0&gxids=7628

They’ll also be available to download at my website (elizabethcbunce.com).

I am also always thrilled to talk to students, either at full class school visits or small writing groups. Just drop me an email at my website!

All right — I’ve got some questions about the cover. But before we start discussing it, let’s take a look…

WOW! Can you tell us how this gorgeous cover came to be?

Well, first, I just want to say how absolutely THRILLING this particular cover is! I am beyond excited that Myrtle’s partner in sleuthing, her unflappable governess Miss Judson, has joined Myrtle on the jacket. My publishers were very coy about this, not breathing a word of their plans, and they sprung it on me as a complete surprise. Seeing Miss Judson alongside Myrtle made me stand up and cheer!

For the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, I have had the privilege of helping to plan some of the cover imagery, including planting small objects throughout the story that can be singled out for the jacket corners and the chapter spot illustrations. This time, I suggested the image of Myrtle looking in through the shop window at the holiday display, and I love how artist Brett Helquist realized this—there’s so much intrigue there: what are they looking at? What’s happening? What do the olives and the overturned wishing well signify? Readers won’t have to wait long to find out….

I can’t help but notice that there is a cat sitting behind Myrtle and her governess, Miss Judson. Tell us about her!

That would be the third member of the team, Peony the Cat! Peony has been a key part of the crew since her own origin story in Premeditated Myrtle (MHM #1), and she features prominently in How to Get Away with Myrtle (MHM #2)–you can spot her tucked away on the covers of the first two books, too. Anyone who’s ever known a cat can tell you, it is impossible to keep them out of the action, and new readers will discover that Peony is just as irrepressible as her fellow human sleuths. 

When can readers get their hands on COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE?

October 5!

Can we expect more adventures with Myrtle?

I have just turned in the manuscript for In Myrtle Peril. That will come out Fall 2022, and I’ve thrown even more hard-to-believe real-life Victorian drama at Myrtle this time.

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

My website (with all social media links) is elizabethcbunce.com. On Instagram, follow the hashtags #MHDS (Myrtle Hardcastle Detective Society) and #MyrtleMondays for regular updates. In addition, I blog weekly on topics about life in Victorian England, sharing the influences behind Myrtle’s world and her cases. I love to hear from fans, so my contact information is at the website, too.

Thanks again for returning to the MG Book Village, Elizabeth! We hope you and Myrtle will join us again soon!

Thank you so much for welcoming Myrtle back!

Elizabeth is a fan of all things fantastical, mysterious, spooky, and old. She writes historical fantasy, mysteries, and ghost stories for young readers, and discerning not-so-young readers. Her books are inspired by real places and cultures of the past, often with otherworldly or magical elements. She’s been writing as long as she can remember—even before she knew it was a job. She’s always been interested in literature, folklore, history, and culture, so she studied English and anthropology in college. But she’s only ever worked as a writer (although not all her writing jobs were as interesting as being a novelist). She’s a native Midwesterner, living in the tall grass prairie near Kansas City with her husband and their feline supervisory staff. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her Making something—cosplay, needlework, historical costuming, quilting… but not cooking. In 2009 her first book, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a Young Adult Debut, further cementing her affection for librarians everywhere! You can read her acceptance speech on the Making Page, and learn more about the Morris Award from YALSA.

Cover Reveal: HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Hi there, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE and reveal the book’s cover. What’s HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE all about?

Thanks so much for having me! This is great fun.

I pitched the second Myrtle Hardcastle mystery to my editor like this: “How To Get Away with Myrtle: in which a boring railway holiday to the seaside is livened up by jewel thieves and murder, and Aunt Helena has (sadly) probably not killed someone.”

What’s it like writing a series? How does your approach to Book 2 differ from your approach to Book 1?

Series are as much fun for the author as they are for the readers. Maybe even more! As I spent more and more time with my characters, they naturally started to suggest further adventures to me. I didn’t set out to write a series, but even before the end of Premeditated Myrtle, it was clear that all of these characters had more Investigating to do. Happily, my publisher agreed and signed on for four Myrtle books.

The biggest difference is that the first book started off much longer—quite a bit longer than is typical for series mysteries (for adults or young readers). I whittled it down to a more manageable size—but writing a shorter book was entirely new to me. My young adult novels have all topped out just over 100,000 words. I wasn’t sure I could write a shorter book, but I was determined to learn how. And the first draft of How to Get Away with Myrtle was half that length! It’s since been fleshed out to its final length of around 74,000 words, which feels just exactly right. (I think I have the knack now—I just turned in Book 3, at just over 73,000!) They’re a terrific length for book-loving middle graders (who often email me asking for longer books!).

The Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series is set in Victorian England! Can you tell us a bit about this setting and why it is so important?

It would take several college courses, an army of historians, and thousands of pages to explain the significance of Victorian England and the global shadow we still live under, well more than a century later! But for these books, I really wanted to explore a world that was just developing all of the standard criminology tools we now take for granted (fingerprinting, blood analysis, etc.), and how exciting that must have been for crime fighters of the era.

Myrtle’s world is like the world of kids today: she lives with many technologies that are “old hat” for her—she’s never known a world without railways, gas lighting, telegrams, or photography. But many things are new and modern and thrilling: telephones, electricity, innovative advances in crime science. Sometimes the past can feel like one blurry lump that’s hard to distinguish, but the world is constantly changing, and people of every era have lived in modern, technologically advanced times. (1893 might seem old-fashioned or even primitive to us, but to people of the period, it was the most advanced the world had ever been.) Myrtle’s cutting-edge enthusiasm for All Things Modern helps bring that sense alive for readers. 

What do you hope your readers–especially the young ones–take away from this book?

These books, above all, are a celebration of curiosity and a determined search for knowledge. I hope readers find Myrtle’s curiosity infectious—the way she is easily distracted by any new bit of fascinating information that crosses her path, and can’t wait to share that information with the reader (whether or not it’s actually relevant to the matter at hand!). And, in turn, that they’ll see this irrepressible curiosity as a positive trait. In Myrtle’s case, she uses it to solve murders and further the cause of justice. But curiosity also fuels science, it fosters understanding between cultures, it drives discoveries and pushes boundaries. Joined with perseverance and determination, curiosity can make a person unstoppable, capable of achieving whatever we set our minds to.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE to their classroom libraries?

We’re developing a Common Core-aligned classroom guide for Premeditated Myrtle, the first book in the series, which will also work with Book 2. These books are ideal read-alongs for units of history (How to Get Away with Myrtle in particular deals with the early industry of tourism, the effect of railways on culture and society, the science of photography and its use in crime scene analysis—which would make for a fantastic classroom exercise!—and more.). The books also include historical notes, and there are resources for readers on my website (www.elizabethcbunce.com). I have tried to share as much real history as I can in these books, but for even more historical fun, join me there. I’ll be sharing lots of period science and criminology, Victorian-era crafts and amusements, and other wonderful tidbits that will help enrich the reading experience.

I want readers to join in my fascination and delight for history—not just dates and battles and politics, but the way our ancestors lived their daily lives, what it might have felt like (or… smelled like) to live in a particular era, in a particular class, with particular interests. Myrtle shows one face of history to young readers, and I hope she opens up windows to other facets of the past, as well.

I love to talk to young readers, writers, and historians, and teachers or librarians interested in school visits (virtual or in person when circumstances permit) should contact me to discuss appearances.

All right — I’ve got some questions about the cover. But before we start discussing it, let’s take a look...

Tell us about the cover! Were you involved in the process?

Artist Brett Helquist’s covers have been more than I could have dreamed of for Myrtle. Sometimes an author has very little say in a book cover, but that was not the case here. Early on in the series development, I spent quite a bit of time with my editor discussing our shared vision for the series. As soon as we saw the artwork for Book 1, we knew we were on the right track. Myrtle’s expression of determined action was so perfectly captured!

The initial sketches for Book 2 originally featured the stolen tiara. I proposed featuring the train instead, thinking it would invite readers to come along with Myrtle on her holiday—and everyone embraced this idea enthusiastically (I’ve heard even the artist was relieved not to have to paint that tiara after all!). Now that the overall series design is established, I keep that in mind when writing the new books, making sure the stories include nice visual set pieces for the cover art, and small significant objects/props that can be featured in the frame corners and chapter headers. Keep your eye out for those scissors!

(Interesting nerdy footnote: Editor Elise Howard’s vision included the iconic red cow-catcher on the train, even though they were not typically used on English trains of the period! But it definitely helps set the stage.)

As a historical costumer, I was also asked to provide input on Myrtle’s clothing. I had one request: that she wear a middy (a sailor suit, fashionable seaside wear of the era). This request was actually borne from Brett’s original sketch for Book 1, where Myrtle was wearing an ascot with flippy little ties. It didn’t feel right for Book 1, but I knew it was perfect for How to Get Away with Myrtle! I sent along a photograph of an 1890s red and white middy in a museum collection—and it ended up inspiring the spectacular color scheme.

But I had NO IDEA how well Brett would realize all of these suggestions! In the story, the travelers are lured by a fabulous brochure advertising the Family Amusements of a luxurious seaside resort, including the beautiful beach and the quintessential pier. Brett’s cover for this book looks exactly like that Brochure! I’m beyond thrilled. The back-and-forth creative input of everyone involved in these books, including the covers and the internal design work, has been an amazing experience that makes the whole package that much stronger.

What was it like for you to see the cover for the first time?

My editor was whisking out of the country as she was sending me the artwork, so the exchange happened over the phone—there is no written record to record it for posterity. There are rumors that I might have squealed, but as there is no independent confirmation of that, it cannot be proved.

When can readers get their hands on HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE?

It will be out October 6, in a Fabulous Two-Book Launch Event Extravaganza, right alongside Book 1, Premeditated Myrtle! I’m so excited that eager readers will be able to grab both books at the same time—or pick the one that appeals the most. These books occur in sequence (Book 1 takes place in August 1893, Book 2 is in October, Book 3 in December, etc.)… but you can read them in any order you like!

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

My website and blog are at www.elizabethcbunce.com. If you subscribe to the blog, you’ll get all the newsy updates on everything Myrtle related, as well as everything I’m making besides books (there are some Myrtle crafts coming!). Readers can also follow the hashtags #MyrtleMondays, #DoubleMyrtle, and #PeonytheCat on Facebook and Instagram. My publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, also has fabulous resources and a robust social media platform, and you can see what else they have coming out.

Elizabeth is a fan of all things fantastical, mysterious, spooky, and old. She writes historical fantasy, mysteries, and ghost stories for young readers, and discerning not-so-young readers. Her books are inspired by real places and cultures of the past, often with otherworldly or magical elements. She’s been writing as long as she can remember—even before she knew it was a job. She’s always been interested in literature, folklore, history, and culture, so she studied English and anthropology in college. But she’s only ever worked as a writer (although not all her writing jobs were as interesting as being a novelist). She’s a native Midwesterner, living in the tall grass prairie near Kansas City with her husband and their feline supervisory staff. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her Making something—cosplay, needlework, historical costuming, quilting… but not cooking. In 2009 her first book, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a Young Adult Debut, further cementing her affection for librarians everywhere! You can read her acceptance speech on the Making Page, and learn more about the Morris Award from YALSA.